Friday, April 21, 2017

And Then This Happened... Reptilicus

You know how it is. You go to the beach with that special someone. You do your best to impress, and stay calm after you see them in a swimsuit. But nothing goes right. First the water is too darn cold to swim in. Second the sand is too darn hot to walk on barefoot. The sand fleas are biting and someone's dog does their business upwind of your blanket.

Oh, and some idiot at a nearby lab grows a giant, slime-spewing, prehistoric, reptile that gets loose and starts rampaging across the beach. What a lousy day! I think it may be time for a caption for that moment.

And then this happened...


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MST3K - Season 11 Overview

It took a massive Kickstarter campaign, the enthusiasm and guidance of Joel Hodgson and a collection of some of the brightest and best comedy writers and performers, but the impossible happened. Mystery Science Theater 3000 returned from the grave. In April of 2017, a new season was created and unleashed on the world via Netflix for new and old fans to enjoy.

Of course things were a bit different this time around. There was a new host, Jonah Heston who became our human trapped by a new mad scientist, Kinga Forrester. Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy and Cambot all returned but with new performers (and voices). The show balanced this new crew with a faithful attempt to capture the feel and tone of the original series. The special effects were low budget, the host segments were a mix of corny and silly with a dash of song. The riffing managed to span a wide range of topics and generations while keeping things family friendly and fun.

The result was an impressive return that managed to do exactly what the show always did, expose the viewer to unfortunate films and provide plenty of laughs. The films selected for this season run the gamut from giant rubber monsters, 80's fantasy cheese, 70's Star Wars ripoffs and even a disaster movie. All the films are in color and widescreen and no short subjects were tackled. But all in all, the movies are some of the most entertaining yet and the crew does a fine job with them.
  • 1101 - Reptilicus
  • 1102 - Cry Wilderness
  • 1103 - The Time Travelers
  • 1104 - Avalanche
  • 1105 - The Beast of Hollow Mountain
  • 1106 - Starcrash
  • 1107 - The Land that Time Forgot
  • 1108 - The Loves of Hercules
  • 1109 - Yongary - The Monster from the Deep
  • 1110 - Wizards of the Lost Kingdom
  • 1111 - Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II
  • 1112 - Carnival Magic
  • 1113 - The Christmas that Almost Wasn't
  • 1114 - At Earth's Core

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Neon Demon (2016)

Introduction:

So this movie got a lot of bad reviews when it came out. I remember a particular reviewer I usually trust saying it was the worst movie the year and that it made him physically ill. Of course, that got my attention. Not the physically ill part, but the vehemence he leveled at the film. He did the same thing to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and I love that movie. So I think it was time for me to visit The Neon Demon.

Summary:

Jesse (Elle Fanning) comes to Los Angeles to launch her modeling career. She stays at a seedy motel managed by an unhinged Hank (Keanu Reeves in a wonderfully odd performance). Her friend Dean (Karl Glusman) takes some photos to get her portfolio started. Soon she is discovered and starts to climb the ladder of success.

She meets Ruby (Jena Malone) a makeup artist to takes a shine to her and wants to be her BFF. But other models see Jesse as a real threat to their careers. She’s too popular, too beautiful and too pure. Something has to be done. As Jesse continues on her journey, success creates its own dangers. Before long the Neon Demon is staring out of the mirror back at Jesse, and everything changes.

Good Points:
  • Jaw dropping use of color to create dreamlike visuals you won’t forget
  • Some brave and disturbing performances especially from Fanning and Malone
  • A wonderful score by Cliff Martinez that puts you into the glittering world

Bad Points:
  • The overall message and themes are familiar ones
  • The plot is very simple and straightforward – the execution isn’t
  • Has a few scenes meant to shock and disturb - deeply

Overall:

Um yeah this movie is not for everyone. If you appreciate David Lynch and movies like Enemy or Perfect Blue than this may be something you’ll appreciate. It is a movie crafted with amazing visuals, sound and music exploring the themes of obsession with beauty and how vanity ultimately corrupts and consumes. Not new ideas and the plot is pretty obvious. But the way the story is told, the way it creeps under your skin, the way is entrances and horrifies all at once impressed me. Style over substance, yeah. Will some see at as pretentious, oh hell yes. But I loved every neon lit, blood dripping minute of it.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 5
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total: 4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Score Sample: Neon Demon (2016)

You probably weren't expecting this. Two score sample in a single week, I'm a mad man! But I watched this movie recently and was struck by the score. I enjoy a good bit of electronic music, and Cliff Martinez's work for Neon Demon really worked wonderfully in the film. I was surprised how it also made for a good isolated listening experience. He uses some retro sounding synths creating the kind of thing you expect to hear in a chilled out 1980s cyberpunk bar somewhere.

Winding Refn was going for a movie that focused on mood and themes for the Neon Demon and he relies heavily on the score to create that mood. The music reminds me of a combination of John Carpenter and Vangelis with a bit of Giorgio Moroder in there. It has a cold beauty that gets dark and mysterious at times. Really fits the film and helps build the atmosphere, especially combined with the long takes and scenes with almost no dialogue.  The title track will give you a taste of the score, so take the trip with the Neon Demon composed by Cliff Martinez.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Score Sample: Twin Peaks (1990)

I don't share nearly enough jazzy music on this blog. But I do enjoy the occasional jazzy film score. I think I owe that appreciation of jazzy scores enjoying the music from the television series Twin Peaks. I haven't blogged much about my fandom of David Lynch, but yeah, I pretty much love everything he's directed. I even find merit in his flawed take on Dune.

One of the key elements of any David Lynch production is the creation of mood. With Twin Peaks Lynch brought along his frequent musical collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. The sound they created for the show was a mix of 50's rockabilly, smooth jazz, dream pop, and eerie synths. Nothing else quite sounds like the musical world of Twin Peaks, and if you've ever watched a few episodes of the show, you'll know it when you hear it.

I'm going to avoid the obvious cuts from the show and share one of my favorite tracks, which makes its dreamlike appearance in the third episode of the series. It focuses more on the jazzy end of the score. Enjoy The Dance of the Dream Man from Twin Peaks by Angelo Badalamenti.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Top Ten MST3K Movies on Netflix (as of March 2017)

Yeah this is an oddly specific list, but I figured I'd get the word out there. Netflix is going to unleash the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in April. To prep you for it, they've got their hands on 20 episodes of show spanning the second season on Comedy Central to the tenth season on Sci-fi channel.

There ares some really good ones on there, and if you haven't had a chance to check them out, I can give you a recommendation on my ten favorite episodes from this group. I'll rank the remaining 10 as well. I have reviews for a good portion of most of these, but if you'd like further details, feel free to contact me and I'll put a review in the queue for you!

As with anything else MST3K, my personal preferences for cheesy movies influences my picks. I love bad 80s sci-fi and fantasy films. So you'll certainly seen a lean in that direction. And just because I have more Mike episodes on this list just means they don't have some of my favorite Joel episodes like Cave Dwellers, MitchelFugitive Alien and Time of the Apes.

Runners Up

20. Horrors of Spider Island
19. Sidehackers
18. Future War
17. Catalina Caper
16. Teenagers from Outer Space
15. Zombie Nightmare
14. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
13. Laserblast
12. Eegah
11. Hercules Against the Moonmen

Top Ten
10. Werewolf
This episode from the Sci-fi channel era is one of the few 1990s movies they tackled. Not that it makes it any better or worse, just an observation. Archeologists discover a skeleton of a native american werewolf. Some poor schmo gets scratched by the bone and there is a werewolf on the rampage! For some reason, no one able to pronounce the word "werewolf" the same. Yuri's hair changes in each new scene. You've got hilarious werewolf makeup/suits/effects. Then there is an Yosemite Sam guy who lives in the house. This horror movie isn't scary but hilariously incompetent. Mike and the bots have a blast with it. This one is a Halloween staple at my house.

9. The Giant Gila Monster
Don Sullivan! Don't know who Don Sullivan is? Well you will after this hit giant lizard film. Well "hit" is a strong word. It's a hit for MST3K fans for sure. You've got a teen hero who is a mechanic and hot rodder. When a giant gila monster starts devouring folks, he works with the sheriff (who has no jurisdiction over anything according to this movie) to find and stop the beast. There are silly songs, people putting their knees up on things and of course the hilarious "monster" who is just a monster because they put him on a model train set. Joel and bots provide some excellent dialogue for the creature and sing whenever they sing, whenever they sing, whenever they SING!

8. Merlin's Mystical Shop of Wonders
Oh this movie. And it is only a movie in a the loosest sense of the word. It is actually a bunch of cobbled together short films and other footage to pass itself off as a movie. The basic story is that Ernest Borgnine is telling his grandson stories about Merlin the magician. But these stories are hideous! Cat and dogs are murdered. People explode. A kid appears to be stuck in 1983, but the first story clearly happens in the late 80s! Merlin shows people a picture of his little monkey. Toys kill people. A demon speaks from a minor And there is a very angry psychic! Mike and the bots have a great time with all the insanity on display. My favorite episode from season ten.

7. Manos: The Hands of Fate
Infamous. Has been called one of the worst films of all time. It is not hard to see why. Attempting to be a horror film, but creepy for all the wrong reasons. The film follows a family lost in Texas and encountering a mysterious house. When they ask for shelter for the night the strange and hilarious Torgo (and his HUGE HUGE knees) stammers that "the master won't be pleased". Soon enough you find out what The Master is, and there are women wandering around in white gowns, and Torgo paws at people in a creepy manner and a little girl is probably traumatized after filming this. Joel and the bots give us a master class in riffing a z-grade movie, but you may need to shower after watching this one.

6. Time Chasers
Inspired by Back the Future more than H.G. Wells this movie follows an amateur scientist who makes a time machine out of a small plane. But soon evil forces lead by a huge corporation (that appears to be in a mall or library) attempt to take the time machine and use it as a weapon. Our hero must travel to the future and the past to try to stop them. You get revolutionary war reenactments, future mall action, a guy in a pink suit, a chase between a bike and a car, and of course lots of our hero's chin which is very prominent. Part of the 3 part 80s sci-fi punch at the end of season eight, Mike and the bots deliver the comedy with this one.

5. Pod People
I love this horrible horrible movie. Another one that doesn't know what the hell it is trying to do. One moment you have a cute kid meeting a friendly alien, E.T. style. Next you have a teen pop band being slapped to death by a less then friendly alien, becoming a feeble slasher movie of sorts. There are also egg poachers, and a grumpy guy who drinks a metric ton of alcohol, not mention unbelievable visual effects as Trumpy (the alien star) does "magic things". You get the hit single "Idiot Control Now" and did I mention everyone is dubbed and the movie is edited by a spastic box turtle? No. Well, there I just did. A real classic of the series with Joel and the bots knocking it out of the park early in season three.

4. Puma Man
So many super hero films, so little time. But Mike and the bots found this wonderfully bad movie about a paleontologist who gets a suit from an Aztec priest and becomes the Puma Man. This means he can see in red vision, jump around on trampolines hidden behind objects, claw threw tin foil, and "fly" like he's dangling from wires attached from his rear end. And the music, dear sweet Muses, the music is so so bad. Donald Pleasance plays the villain and wears some super funky 70s disco outfits. There are some masks and alien overlords and... look, just watch Puma Man. It will change your life. Mike and the bots unleash the riffs and this movie earns each one.

3. Jack Frost
Mystery Science Theater 3000 tackled their share of dubbed films over the years, but the fantasy films from Russia are some of my favorites. This one takes the cake in my book. It is essentially a bunch of Russian fairy tales and fables thrown into a blender, set on high speed and then dumped all over the screen. It is bright, colorful, energetic and completely bonkers. There is a young man who turns into a bear headed creature. There is the cutest little girl in all of Russia tormented by a wicked stepmother and stepsister. There are magical mushroom wizards. There is a pig sled. A man obsessed with goose livers and of course Jack Frost, who looks like Santa Claus in blue and the ability to coat everything with ice and snow. Mike and the bots are hand again to give this movie the riffing treatment. The movie is so much goofy fun, and the riffing works perfectly with it. A favorite winter time treat.

2. I Accuse My Parents
I would never have thought that a silly melodrama about a young man who somehow gets involved in organized crime would become one of my favorite episodes of all time. But here it is. This morality tale follows Jimmy ("don't forget he's kind of stupid, Joel") who is neglected by his parents, even when he wins an essay contest. He ends up selling shoes to a lovely lounge singer and falling for her. Trouble is, she is dating a crime boss. The crime boss hires Jimmy to "run shadowy errands" and it all goes wrong. The movie isn't horrible, with solid acting and camera work. No it is the story and dialogue that is so silly. Joel and the bots just run with it and it works beautifully. You also get them riffing a short film on farming, which is as odd as it sounds. This is an endlessly quotable episode and one that we often return to when we've had a bad day. It never fails to make us laugh or just sing along with the songs.

1. Space Mutiny
Cheesy 80s sci-fi with no budget, hilarious acting and one of the most idiotic screenplays I've ever seen put to film. Yes! Sign me up! The Southern Sun is traveling through space to find a new world to colonize. But angry, grumpy people on board are sick of space travel and want to join forces with space pirates (I think, it is all very unclear). What I do know is that there is a mutiny in space. Laser guns are shot, people fall off railings, lots of 80s "future" outfits are worn, our muscly hero blows lines and shouts in a high pitch scream, the villain chews so much scenery he's nearly foaming at the mouth. You get some alien women dancing in a shadowy room. There is a sequence in a club that will leave you speechless. And the car chase. Yes a car chase on a space ship. The movie feels like it is gift wrapping the riffs for Mike and the bots. So bad was never so good.

Friday, March 17, 2017

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Introduction:

When I watched Cloverfield back in 2008 I didn’t say “Wow that was great. It really needs a sequel.” Luckily this movie isn’t a sequel to the previous film. Instead it tells a very different type of story that may be linked to the events in the previous film. Instead of people in terror of a giant mutated rampaging monster, you have people in terror of a giant rampaging John Goodman.

Summary:

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets into a car accident and is knocked unconscious. When she comes to, she finds herself completely unfamiliar place, not a hospital, but what looks like a bunker or bomb shelter with very thick walls and full air filtering system.

Turns out this bunker is owned by Howard (John Goodman) who tells Michelle that some kind of horrible event has occurred above ground contaminating everything. He found her on the side of the road and brought her to safety. Along with Howard is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) a young man who seems to be hiding something. It becomes apparent to Michelle that Howard may be unstable and could be lying to her. She has to decide to either believe this stranger, or to attempt to make a break for freedom into a world that may be in the midst of apocalypse.

Good Points:
  • Masterfully guides the viewer along a very tense journey
  • Some top notch acting that pulls you into the story
  • A bang up score by Bear McCreary 

Bad Points:
  • Expecting over the top visual effects and massive destruction – you’ll be disappointed.
  • Takes place almost entirely in one location that could bore some viewers
  • The movie climaxes perfectly and then there is the epilogue… yeah that was odd

Overall:

If you enjoy a good solid thriller that focuses on tension and acting than you can’t go wrong here. The concept is pretty simple, but the cast and direction keep things moving briskly and intensely. McCreary’s score supports the film wonderfully. The only misstep is the epilogue that will really rub some viewers the wrong way. Probably the best thriller I’ve seen since GrandPiano, but this one has a much different feel.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 5
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 5
Total:  5

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

And Then This Happened... Hercules

Being a demigod does have some drawbacks. You usually get selected to go on dangerous quests. You have gods and goddesses doing their best to stop you. Usually there is some kind of tragedy looming in your life. But at least you get fame and fortune.

Well if you are a demigod in a Cannon film then maybe you have a few other drawbacks. You get poor dialogue, goofy costumes and robots. You know about the robots, right?

Well even if you didn't know about the robots, Hercules does. Here is a classic moment from his outrageous 80s adventure.

And then this happened...


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Introduction:

I didn’t ever make the connection, but after watching this documentary I came to realize that Cannon Films was a part of my life, whether I liked it or not. Growing up in the 1980s, how could I avoid some of their classics like Masters of the Universe or Breakin’ or Revenge of the Ninja and of course Hercules. But it turns out that the story behind this studio is just as entertaining as some of their cheesiest movies.

Summary:

This documentary explores the rise and fall of Cannon Films. Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus came to Hollywood with a dream to create films – lots and lots of films. They started out small with quicky skin flicks and silly action films. But every once in a while one of their films would become a hit and they would have enough money to make 20 more B flicks.

They rushed production, cut costs, wheeled and dealed. They started the ninja craze of the 80s, rode the breakdancing fad, employed Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson and even managed to make a couple of Shakespeare films (seriously)! But in the end they went too fast, reached too high and everything came crashing down. Filled with interviews with cast, crew and business acquaintances, you’ll hear from Franco Zeffirelli, Marina Sirtis, Molly Ringwald, Dolph Lundgren, Tobe Hooper, Elliot Gould, Michael Dudikoff, Bo Derek, Sybil Danning, Richard Chamberlain and a whole host of others. The stories will have you laughing, shaking your head and wondering if Electric Boogaloo was really as goofy as you remembered.

Good Points:
  • Filled to bursting with great stories about making some of these infamous movies
  • Manages to hit all the key high and low points of the studio and its creators
  • Sure to cause flashbacks to anyone who was a movie fan in the 80s and 90s 

Bad Points:
  • Sorely missing is any input from Golan, Globus, Stallone and Norris
  • Feels like there were even more great stories cut for time
  • Sure to cause unpleasant flashbacks for anyone who was a movie fan in the 80s and 90s (didn’t want to remember The Apple and God help me if I see any more footage from Going Bananas)

Overall:

Oh yeah this movie was right up my alley. I love cheesy movies of the 1980s and Cannon made some of the cheesiest. So many great stories in this, and some of them had my jaw dropping. It both praises and questions the men who made this studio. They did some really innovative things and some really questionable things. While I wish Golan and Globus had participated in this (they quickly got their own documentary produced and released before this one!) what you do get is a hell of an entertaining look at a dark horse studio and the very unique world of 1980s Hollywood.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Imitation Game (2014)

Introduction:

What is it about eccentric geniuses that draw audiences to flock to movies about them? Is it the wonder that someone could be so smart and yet so socially awkward? Is it the fact that we admire them and yet feel superior to them? Or do we enjoy the performances that these movies deliver? Hard to say, but I will say that A Beautiful Mind may have some competition for best biography about a grumpy mathematician.

Summary:

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant mathematician who becomes part of a team working for the British government. Their job is to crack the top secret Nazi code that will give them a much-needed advantage in the world war raging around them. Turing may be a genius but he is completely devoid of any social niceties. His abrasive nature soon gains him the ire of his entire team, especially the influential Commander Denniston (Charles Dance).

But then Turing encounters the extremely bright and pretty Joan Clark (Keira Knightley). She contributes to the team even though the entirely male group resents her presence. She is also able to help Turing learn new approaches to get his team to work with rather than against him. But time is running out. The Nazis seem to be winning every battle and there may be a spy on the team. Can Turing’s team crack the code with his new computing machine, or is this the maddest idea ever conceived of? If you are reading this on a computer, then I think you know the answer.

Good Points:
  • Some really good performances supporting Cumberbatch’s excellent one
  • Gives a good feeling of the multiple timeframes it covers
  • Provides a look at an aspect of WWII that we don’t often see explored in film

Bad Points:
  • Jumps around in the timeline for very little narrative impact
  • Feels a bit routine, hitting on many of the familiar biopic routines
  • Someone looking for a more thrilling side of WWII will be disappointed

Overall:

This is a film that works because of its performances and the interesting story at the heart of it. Turing and his path to break Nazi codes is a fascinating story. He is a very intriguing person and his relationships with his team and the military creates plenty of drama. Unfortunately the film feels the need to jump forward and backward in time, interrupting the narrative. It feels unnecessary and much of the information could have been delivered in other ways while keeping us to the main storyline. Worth seeing if you are interested in the subject and like the cast, but don’t expect anything too special.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Movie Music Musings: The Goldsmith Award 2014

Ready for another Goldsmith Award? While there were plenty of poorly reviewed and attended movies that year, most of them also had uninspiring scores. It took a little bit of research but I did find a movie that fit the bill. The score is gem, one of my favorites of the year, but the movie just didn't click with too many folks.

A Million Ways to Die in the West was Seth MacFarlene trying to bring a modern day Blazing Saddles to the big screen. But I wondered how many people were clamoring for a parody of Westerns. We don't see too many Westerns in theaters any more, and most of them go out of their way to avoid anything traditional. So a movie making fun of traditional western tropes just seemed odd. And most reviewers and the few folks that saw it thought it was odd.

But one thing that worked out great was Joel McNeely's rollicking score. He takes that classic 1950s Western movie sound and just rolls with it. His main theme will remind you of The Magnificent Seven and there is more than a touch of Aaron Copland in there. There is a fun energy to the score and while it does wink at the listener a couple of times, McNeely mostly plays it straight.

The album includes a couple of amusing songs too. The titular A Million Ways to Die in the West has Alan Jackson singing about how perilous it was to live like a cowboy. Then there is the hilarious If You Only Have a Mustache which tells you how to get women by having facial hair.

Lots of great tracks to pick from McNeely's score, but the Main Titles will give you a good taste of the style.



And might as well throw the title song in too!


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Full Invasion Part 2 - Robotech: The New Generation

Just look at this crew. Does it get any more rag tag?
In Part 1 of this blog I went in depth into The Masters saga of Robotech and how it falls flat in the overall scheme of the story. There is a reason not many people mention it when talking about this anime hybrid. Most folks are talking about The Macross Saga instead. But what about the third series - The New Generation?

One of the big advantages the third series has over the previous one is the fact that its narrative is much clearer. It focuses on getting Scott Bernard to Earth and then getting him and his team to Reflex Point to stop the Invid. This gives the whole series a forward thrust that The Masters series was lacking.

I feel that the characters in The New Generation are a bit better defined and more interesting overall. The fact that you have this group cobbled together with mismatched personalities creates natural drama. Scott's hard headed determination clashes with Rand's devil may care attitude. Rook is surly and aloof at first and it is really hard to like her. Lunk seems like a nice enough guy, but you get the feeling that he's hiding something. Annie is just a kid and she feels like a tag along. Then there is Lancer/Yellow Dancer who just seems like a complete outsider of the group.

Rook may have her gun ready to take on some Invid,
or Rand may have ticked her off again.
But The New Generation builds on all these characters. They all change to various degrees because of the adventures they face together and what they learn from each other. For example, Rook mellows a bit and starts to learn to trust the team. Her survival instinct is very strong, and as we learn more about her past we understand why. But we also see her bond with the rest of the team, especially Rand.  So when she considers leaving the group near the end of the series because of the increasing likelihood that they are all going to die, we are not surprised. But it says a lot about her that she stays to fight the final battle. I appreciated that almost everyone in the group had some kind of character arc that developed over the course of the series.

One of the places where The New Generation falters is in the details. Because this turns into a road trip type story, it hits on many over familiar tropes. It starts to feel a little too scripted in places where events and locales are set up just to have our characters interact with them. Thankfully the big events seem to impact our characters and they don't reset for the next episode (compared to something like Cowboy Bebop). But at the same time it feels a little bit stale the longer it goes on. Especially with the endless Invid pursuit that just keeps pushing the team forward. I can't help but feel that Robotech is cribbing from The Fugitive.

I really like the design of the crab-like Invid mecha.
But this mid series slog isn't unique to the New Generation, it happens in all three series. But one big missed opportunity is the use of resources in this series. It comes up a few times, but it never really seems to impact the action. Our heroes are using proto-culture powered mecha and vehicles. They are constantly firing missiles and energy weapons. But there are only a couple episodes dealing with them attempting to wrest the necessary resources from the occupied cities or the Invid.

By the tenth episode I just had to wonder why the heck they were still using the pistol and rifle energy weapons against the Invid. The aliens have very thick and resilient armor. The energy weapons do nothing to them. Only a shot directly into the single eye seems to have any effect. But many episodes have our heroes blazing away against the Invid with energy weapons for no reason I can figure out. I mean if it slowed them down or something I could see it, but they do nothing but waste precious resources the team needs. But the series never addresses this.

They are still making toys from the "New Generation"
for collectors. 
It is the constant stream of missiles that gets me. Scott has no problem launching wave after wave of missile against the Invid. I can't blame him since those are the only weapons that seem to do any damage to the creatures. But man, I can't imagine them trucking all those missile around in Lunk's truck.

I know I'm picking nits here, but I will admit that it did take me a bit out of the story, especially during those more routine road trip style episodes. But when we got good solid character episodes, I was able to forgive The New Generation its faults and enjoy the ride.

But lets take a look at the Invid themselves. I find them to be the least interesting of the antagonists in all three series of Robotech. Their leader is essentially a commanding female voice for about 80% of the series. The Regis spends most of the episodes telling her soldiers to find and kill Scott and his team. A few episodes hint at the Invid attempting to use proto-culture for some master plan, but it takes quite a while for that to be revealed. I do like the concept of the Invid creating all kinds of life forms to determine which one they will put their consciousness into. It creates a ticking clock for our heroes, because the Invid feel that once they find the perfect life form they will be unstoppable.

Her green blood confirms the truth, both for Ariel
and her companions.
Of course they decide that human life forms are the most adaptable they've encountered so far and that leads to the creation of Ariel/Marlene. So the drama of human meeting alien and falling in love is repeated. Is it any different from the Miriya/Max, Dana/Zor or even Bowie/Musica relationships from the previous series? Well a little bit. It mirrors the Dana/Zor relationship the most. But in many ways Ariel is a more interesting character. She is vulnerable and confused for a lot of the series. She seems very fragile and her companions want to help her. You understand why Rook looks after her, why Scott starts falling for her and why Lancer doesn't say anything when he begins to suspect that she isn't human. Zor always came across as aloof and stubborn. I never really feared for him or what the revelation that he was clone would do to him. But with Ariel, you know she won't be able to handle a revelation of her origin, or the fact that some of her companions may turn on her when they find out. There is more tension in her character's story and it plays really well into the finale of the series - because of course she finds out what she is and yes some of her friends can't deal with it.

Rand is a jolly guy, even if he is trying to survive
an apocalypse.
But Ariel is the exception to the rule. Mostly the Invid are a huge hulking menace, and yes they are very destructive and powerful. But they don't really do much more than chase our heroes around and cause some trouble. It seems like they are mostly around to provide an action scene each episode. A few episodes do use them effectively, especially when the two human/hybrid pilots arrive the on the scene. But I think some better planning of the scripts could have really helped build the Invid and their culture into something as fascinating as the Robotech Masters from the previous series.

In a lot of ways I think the writing team for Robotech had better source material to use in The New Generation than they did for The Masters. The focus on the mismatched characters and their interaction with this war torn world and its people made for some very memorable storylines and events. Even if the villains were a little lackluster, it didn't hurt the finale too much. But once again, I feel like we are missing the punch to the gut that landed so well with The Macross Saga. It is a bit like the too pat ending of Return of the Jedi in that way. None of our heroes die, no one is even really hurt. The earth goes back to its old self and everyone rocks out to Yellow Dancer Live and in Concert. Even the Invid survive to fly off into the cosmos to find a new world to torment. It is celebratory but it feels like the costs to get there weren't all that high, or at least not as high as I would have imagined.

"Are you really ready to Robotech Rock?"
I'm picking a bit on Robotech because of my adult tastes. I fully realize that a kid back in 1985 isn't going to really care too much about same old road trip plot lines, bland enemies or endless ammo. I sure didn't. But I'm not sure I can recommend Robotech to a new viewer in this day an age. Anime and science fiction shows in general have gotten more sophisticated and better plotted out (for the most part). The messiness of The Masters Saga and The New Generation will cause viewers to lose interest.

What it all boils down to is that Robotech was a great series for its time. It was an interesting experiment that really clicked with a lot of young viewers back in the day. But I think the nostalgia goggles can blind some old time fans to the faults of the show. But the truth is pretty plain: The Macross Saga is the best of the series and that is why everyone always talks about it.

But if someone wants to reboot the series, I think there is a lot of room to build something bigger, more impactful and intense. The Robotech concept has a lot of potential to it, and maybe we'll see something that give us a sprawling generational adventure that was inspired by this unique animated saga.

They aren't panicking because of Invid. They just
realized Annie has a loaded plasma cannon
in the cockpit with them!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And Then This Happened... Robotech

When you're on the run from alien invaders and road rambles on in front of you, tempers flare. All the rest stops have been obliterated by particle beam weapons, so you can't find a good clean bathroom. All the food trucks have been ransacked by mutated coyotes and then your attempt at playing "slug bug" with your companions ends with Lunk yelling at Annie for "crossing the line and touching him!"Its enough for you to pull this Cyclone over and sit down for a good sulk. Anyway, what captions can you come up with for this little moment from Robotech: The New Generation?

And then this happened...


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Full Invasion Part 1 - Robotech: The Masters

Dana and her tank were the largest toy
released for the Robotech series in the 80s.
They say you can't go home again. Not sure who "they" are, or why they said it in the first place. But the sentiment often applies to nostalgia. All too often we have fond memories of a film, television series, or bit of music. But when you go back and actually revisit these things, well the experience is not the same. It can even sour the fondness you may have for the thing.

I know this, and yet it never seems to stop me.

Back in 1985 I experienced Robotech, a series that destroyed my conventional expectations of what a cartoon could be. I blogged a bit about the series and it's initial impact on me. But I also mentioned that I was never able to see the entire run of the show straight through. That changed when Netflix download made the entire series available to viewing.

One of the things I notice is that whenever I see anyone mention Robotech they usually talk about the following: Veritech Fighters, the SDF -1, the love triangle between Rick, Minmei and Lisa, the Zentraedi, Max and Miriya's relationship and the impressive action scenes in the series. Except for that last bit, nearly all the conversation revolves around The Macross saga.

After watching the full show, I understand why.

Cool bit of fan art for a DVD
collection of the original series.
In Japan, the Macross series became a franchise by itself. It had movies, Original Animated Video (OAV) series and radio drama spin offs. I already reviewed Macross Plus, but that is just one example. The other two series that comprised Robotech didn't have the same kind of fame. In fact Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross was cut short with a rushed ending because it wasn't as popular as Macross.

I don't want to say that The Macross Saga is perfect. It slogs a bit in the middle and some of the soapier aspects of the series start to weigh down the story. But it still has a very clear narrative line. It has well developed and interesting characters who have clear motivations. It has antagonists that start out rather two dimensional, but evolve over the course of the series. It feels like it has real stakes tied to it. The drama is there. The action is impressive and overall it delivered a well told story with memorable characters.

But the following two storylines of Robotech are missing key elements. They end up falling well short at times. This is only compounded by the narrative problems of trying to tie the three very different series into one cohesive whole.

So many clones. So little time.
The Masters Saga is the most frustrating for me. I see so much potential for great storytelling in this series. But it never comes together in a way that works. The best part of the second series are the antagonists. The Robotech Masters are a really intriguing concept. I love that they are desperate people. It gives them a drive that continues to push them forward even when it becomes obvious that they are only making things worse with constant war against the defenders of earth. You really get the feeling that they have been fighting for so long that they really have no other concept of how to approach their goals.

There are hints that several of the people in charge on earth would be willing to help the Robotech Masters if they just ceased hostilities and asked for help. But the Masters refuse to even consider it. Their interaction with the Invid have soured their view on all other species. It is hinted that this acceptance of war is tied into the fact that they are essentially clones, and their hive mentality keeps them from seeing other options. The cloning aspect and civilization built on trios is also fascinating, and something that was fleshed out early in the series. Unfortunately the rushed ending doesn't give us a substantial payoff for these antagonists.

Resistance is futile!
To me, the Robotech Masters are the most interesting antagonists in the series. What we see of their civilization and reasoning was always engaging and I wanted to learn more. The Zentraedi were very good antagonists too, but they were a bit one note with the exception of a few personalities such as Miriya. The Invid of the third series end up being pretty flat with the only 2D characterization coming from tropes that seemed to be templates from the previous two series (even though it is probably safe to say that Zor's amnesia alien trope was borrowed from Ariel's amnesia alien character. Remember in Japan Mospeada came out before Southern Cross).
Bowie and Musica facing a group of clone soldiers.

As I mentioned in my nostalgic musings, I appreciate now that the lead hero in The Masters Saga was a female tank commander. It was also cool that there was a young black man as the other main protagonist. Of all the heroic leads they are most interesting. Bowie's journey is very real. He starts out as rudderless in this war torn world. He loves playing the piano and writing music, but joins the army so he can please his godfather (who is his adopted father) and his best friend. But he has no stomach for fighting, and doesn't seem too good at it. As the series progresses we see him regretting his actions and becoming his own person. By the end of the series he has pretty much rebelled against the army, and even against Dana to an extent. He doesn't' want to fight people who he feels are very smilier to humans and just want to live in peace. We don't get to spend as much time as I we could have with Bowie, but I found his character to have the most interesting arc.

No, we get to spend more time with Dana and Zor. I think this was supposed to mirror the Max and Miriya relationship from the Macross Saga, but it feels like a stale retread of sorts. Dana comes across like a school girl infatuated with Zor.  His memory loss makes him a less appealing character compared to the fiery Miriya and the cool, confident, but genuine Max. Zor's big secret isn't really too much a secret - he's a clone created by the Robotech Masters. This is pretty much given away within the first few episodes of the series. So the whole time you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it finally does it doesn't deliver a gut punch but more of a ho-hum.

Dana doesn't like me talking smack about her.
Part of the problem is the portrayal of Dana. I'm not sure what the creators were going for, but she comes across as too mercurial and too hot tempered to be a value on the battlefield. I don't care how great she is behind the controls of her tank, she often gives orders based on a whim instead of warrior instinct. She gets angry over petty things. She fusses about frivolities in the middle of war. It's like they took the school girl trope and the warrior women trope and tried to slap them together to make a very bizarre and nonsensical character. But the bottom line is, she isn't all that appealing. And the voice actress in English is actually kind of grating.

I think a real great character could be made with Dana Sterling. Here is a young woman who has famous parents. Her father was THE ace pilot of the SDF-1 and saved countless lives on a number of occasions. Her mother is a Zentraedi ace pilot who killed many humans before joining in the fight against her own people. The relationship must have loomed like a large shadow over Dana as a kid and would surely influence her as she pursued her own path in the military.

Nova and Marie wonder if Dana can really pull off
that outfit.
Speaking of that, Dana grew up on an Earth deviated by war. Even when the Zentraedi were defeated, there was expectation that the Robotech Masters would eventually come. So the people of earth have been waiting for the attack. Dana's joined a military that is in a constant state of alert. I can imagine she didn't have a lot of time to just be a girl. I can see the appeal of wanting to just do normal things like date boys, wear dresses and just have fun - without all the expectations of a famous family and constant war looming. Basically Dana Sterling could have been the Buffy Summers of Robotech.

But the writers of the series were locked into whatever the animation provided. Unfortunately Southern Cross provided a very confusing lead character. In the first portion of the series Dana gets tossed in the brig for behaving like an ass a couple of times. And while she does end up getting respect from those around her (especially Marie and Nova) by the end of the series, it just doesn't ring true. I also think the animators felt that if they had to have the lead character be a woman than we needed to have many gratuitous shower scenes. Seriously, Dana must have felt that she was always covered with tank dust or something.

Yeah Nova is Lawful Good to the extreme!
I will say that The Masters Saga doesn't lack for strong female characters. Not only was the top tank commander a woman, but the top fighter pilot was Marie Crystal. She has a major chip on her shoulder, but they manage to give her some interesting subplots. She kind of vanishes about half way through the series, and I think she is a victim of the shortened series. Nova Satori is the head of security for the Robotech forces. She is very strict in her approach to the law. This causes her to butt heads with Dana quite a bit. She is acts as a foil for Dana for the bulk of the series (and so is Marie to be honest). But they actually have Nova play a bit more into the plot near the end of the The Masters Saga.

The Bioroids have the ability to cause massive devistation.
The final element that bothers me about the second series of Robotech is the overall story arc. Again, this is something that could have worked really well if the creative team wasn't tied to the source material. Much of the series feels like a see-saw of attacks and counter attacks that don't achieve very much at all. So for a lot of the episodes this season you feel like the narrative isn't really going anywhere, at least from the war storyline. This causes you to focus more on the character arcs and when so much time is spent with Dana and Zor, that just doesn't pull you in much either. This gives the series a overall feeling of driving your mecha-tank in circles with no destination.

I don't think that was the intention. I think they didn't want one side getting an upper hand, and I can appreciate that. Both the Macross and the New Generation feature humanity going up against a much more powerful enemy and in a constant state of struggle. It created natural drama. But here with both sides so equally matched, you get bored feeling that neither side can win. This is why the desperation of the Robotech Masters adds such weight to the overall feel of the show. But it happens behind the scenes and never seems to impact the actual war until the end.

One of the three modes for the battle tanks used by
the Southern Cross brigade.
If the creative team behind Robotech had a little more room to maneuver they could have turned this into a theme - the costs of war. We would be able to see how far the Robotech Masters are going to keep humanity from seeing how weak they really are. We could see how each failed invasion costs them more resources, more clones, and increases the likelihood that the Invid will find and destroy all of them. Elements of this appears in the show and when it does, it is the most effective part of The Masters Saga.

What is missing is the cost to humanity. The Macross Saga did a much better job showing how much damage and loss of life the Zentraedi caused to humanity. But we don't see that in The Masters Saga. All our protagonists survive unscathed. We hear and see some aftermath of the war, but nothing comes home like the attacks agains Macross city in the first series. We don't hear Earth defense forces talking about any costs to personal, supplies or technology. You just have the firebrand leader behaving like a jerk and yelling that they can never be defeated. But in the end, he kinda turns out to be right. I'm not sure if some material was edited out, or if it just wasn't there to begin with. But the cost of the war to humanity just doesn't seem to be that high. Especially when you see the massive destruction and backsliding of civilization in the New Generation saga. It just doesn't seem to line up.

Staring contest... and GO!
If we could have seen more of that personal cost to humanity. Seen more of the devastation that the Masters were unleashing. Realized that both sides were on the ropes, but putting on a powerful face for the benefit of the other. Dana could have been part of this plan and thought it was a good one, or she could have seen it for the farce it was. Either way could have been an interesting character arc and given her an additional level that would make her a more engaging character.

Sadly this doesn't happen. When the Masters Saga ends you don't feel like you got a proper climax to the plot. It just feel like the filler in the middle to get to the third act. This is actually intensified in the New Generation when you don't get any mention of Dana or Bowie or the Southern Cross brigade at all! You hear about the devastation of the war against the Robotech Masters, but it feels like the events you just spent so many episodes watching didn't impact the story much at all. In fact you get more name dropping of Rick Hunter and the SDF-1 in the New Generation than anything from the Masters Saga. It could be because the middle series just wasn't too popular and they wanted to remind viewers (kids) why they liked this show so much the in the first place.

It is frustrating that so much potential was in place for the Masters Saga of Robotech, but it just never really comes to fruition. Luckily things get a little better with the New Generation, but it isn't without its problems.

Dana gets ready to rock a rhapsody of Robotech.